Alice Driver is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on migration, human rights and gender equality. She is based in Mexico City. Driver is the author of “More or Less Dead: Feminicide, Haunting, and the Ethics of Representation in Mexico.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)“We are going nowhere. Absolutely nowhere,” Nora Martínez, a migrant from Honduras, told me in May as she sat in a makeshift tent in Matamoros on the US-Mexico border. She was worried about her asylum application, which had been halted by the Trump administration during Covid-19.
I’ve been returning to Nora’s words this week; as a US citizen living abroad, I’m not going anywhere either. Although I report on migration and the difficulties migrants face crossing borders, I have always crossed borders with privilege and ease.
As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the US, for the first time in my life, I am witnessing how the lack of US leadership on Covid-19 is devaluing the US passport I carry.
For example, although European nations began to open their borders
to non-essential travelers on July 1, their borders are closed to US citizens. And even though the US represents one of the largest tourist markets to the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, citing the surge in US Covid-19 cases, blocked
the entry of US tourists.
I have watched President Donald Trump’s behavior
as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the US, and despite endless testimony from healthcare workers about the complexity
of treating the virus, stories about the decomposing bodies
of people who died of Covid-19 stored in trailers and a litany of other horrors, he has focused primarily on praising his handling of the virus.
Many countries are rightfully fearful of US travelers spreading Covid-19, and the result is that they have closed their borders to US passport holders. The lack of US leadership on Covid-19 has already cost the US dearly, and the US passport, once a symbol of the privileges of US citizenship, is now viewed with suspicion.
I understand this sense of distrust, because the way President Trump and his administration have handled Covid-19 has implicated US citizens by association with ideas that are racist and anti-science.
For example, President Trump has repeatedly called Covid-19 “the China Virus
,” helping to fuel an increase in hate crimes
against Asian Americans during the pandemic.
Trump has also used Covid-19 as an excuse to make derogatory and false remarks about Mexico, including suggesting that Mexicans are infecting US citizens with coronavirus. On July 11, he said, “It turned out to be very lucky for us that we had the wall or we would have been inundated because they have some big problems there [in Mexico].
I live in Mexico, and the country has significantly fewer coronavirus cases and deaths than the US. In fact, I fear returning to the US not because of coronavirus, which some countries have proved can be managed
, but because of the way President Trump and his administration are making the science of coronavirus prevention political.
I’ve been talking to my parents who live in rural Arkansas and weighing the risk of visiting them. As I write this, my parents’ neighbors, many of them Trump supporters, are organizing to protest
being required to wear masks in public, because masks, against all logic, have become political symbols in the US.
After months of refusing to wear a mask and as the US approached 143,000 Covid-19 deaths on July 20, President Trump, for the first time, called wearing a mask patriotic
The result of the staggering mishandling of the pandemic response is that the power and status that US citizens have enjoyed for decades is quickly waning.
When I have interviewed migrants during Covid-19, many have told me they would prefer to seek asylum in Canada rather than the US.
The Trump administration has used Covid-19 as an excuse to temporarily end asylum
, which has long served as a reminder that the US seeks to provide justice for those who have fled persecution in their home countries.
Although the Trump administration has halted asylum, they have continued to process deportations
including deporting those who have coronavirus, thereby spreading the virus to other countries.
Like many migrants, US citizens are also talking more frequently about moving to Canada
, which has managed coronavirus much better than the US
and has a universal healthcare system (read: you won’t receive a $400,000 medical bill
if you survive coronavirus).
The most pressing issue in the US isn’t coronavirus itself but rather the continued willful ignorance and ineptitude in the way the Trump administration handles it.
As Ed Yong, who covers science at The Atlantic, explained succinctly
in an interview with Christiane Amanpour, “The question that concerns me the most is not ‘How long will it take a vaccine to arrive?’ but ‘Can a country that is doing so badly as we are right now at controlling Covid-19 roll out a vaccine in a way that is equitable, efficient?’ And I’m not sure, I’m not sure I have faith in the process.”
As Yong points out, even if the US has a Covid-19 vaccine, given the Trump administration’s absence of leadership, the coronavirus is likely to be a long-term problem.
As countries close their borders to US citizens, some of us may experience the inconvenience of not being able to visit family, friends or loved ones who live abroad. As the US closes its borders and halts asylum, asylum seekers are left in limbo and many, like Nora Martínez, are living in tent camps due to overcrowded shelters.
What many US citizens and migrants alike are recognizing clearly, perhaps for the first time, is that the US, at the direction of the current administration, has used coronavirus as an excuse to promote disinformation and attack essential human rights like asylum. And the true cost of the absence of leadership in the US will be measured in much more than countries closing their borders to US passport holders.